This truly becomes my driving force. I think about the survivors I have worked with throughout the years. In thinking about their courage, strength, and resiliency, I am reminded of my own. This is one powerful reminder that helps me through the difficult times.
– Osha Sempel
I am a medical advocate for STAR. I provide support, resources, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault before, during, and after the forensic exam at the hospital. The steps involved in collecting evidence for a forensic exam are extensive and often take a few hours. For a survivor, this can be an overwhelming time that they should never have to go through alone. A big part of this job is helping survivors in that moment with whatever they might need, whether it’s navigating the steps of the forensic exam or simply finding a blanket.
2. How did you come to work at STAR and/or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?
I originally started doing research around sexual assault in grad school and was shocked to find such high numbers of sexual assault occurrences. I couldn’t believe how common sexual assault was in my own community and felt compelled to do something. I started doing this work seven years ago as a work study position and then later as a volunteer. I began with STAR shortly after STAR’s New Orleans office opened, originally as a volunteer before being hired as a part-time medical advocate.
3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR?
This work will inspire and remind you of all the bravery, compassion, and resiliency that exists. I remember the first call-out I ever went on. I was so humbled by the fearlessness of the survivor. Seven years later, I continue to be humbled by survivors of sexual assault. Witnessing their courage and strength is the most rewarding part of my job.
Another rewarding part for me involve others that I work with. Being part of an organization like STAR that provides such thorough follow-up and quality services has been a big part of making this work fulfilling. I am a piece of a larger process that overall is effecting change in this community, and that is very powerful. Additionally, the compassion of the SAFE nurses that I have worked with over the years is another part that keeps me going. Their ability to conduct a thorough, detailed forensic exam while still showing empathy and kindness towards the survivor is so valuable. The good work that is constantly being done is beyond rewarding.
4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?
This can be really challenging work — at times it can be heart-wrenching. There are times when you feel very discouraged or emotional. However, there are always moments where compassion, courage, and strength shine through. This truly becomes my driving force. I think about the survivors I have worked with throughout the years. In thinking about their courage, strength, and resiliency, I am reminded of my own. This is one powerful reminder that helps me through the difficult times.
Additionally, having the support of my supervisor and the other STAR staff is crucial for me. They offer encouragement and support that is essential. I also try to practice self-care so that I am able to be physically and emotionally healthy when working with survivors of sexual assault. For me, self-care is about taking the time to regroup and recharge. I do this in various ways, but my favorites are taking walks, spending time with family, and cooking.
5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?
I am always looking for opportunities to educate others surrounding sexual assault. Challenging myths that promote rape culture, engaging in dialogue around the seriousness of these issues, and promoting survivors coming forward are some of the ways I try to support positive change.
Additionally, I work as a school social worker at an amazing elementary that focuses on using restorative approaches and trauma-informed practices with our students. I have the privilege of working alongside some amazing teachers, administrators, and other mental health workers to effect change with children in our community.
6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?
I would say to challenge yourself to become part of this important movement to end sexual trauma. Unfortunately, we have all been affected by sexual assault or will be at some point in our lifetime. Your support can help make a difference. There are all kinds of ways to be an active member of this movement and to help. One powerful way is to educate yourself. Gain knowledge from reading articles and books, watching documentaries, attending presentations, and finding out who the local experts and resources are in your community. From this knowledge, you can educate others.
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